Enduro & XC Mountain Bike Racing | Lessons Learned from my 2020 Season

They say, no matter what fitness or skill level you’re at, racing will always make you a better rider. To that, I can completely agree. This 2020 season has been filled with many ups and downs, in both XC and Enduro. Even though these Midweek Mountain BIke races are just local, they are still highly competitive and filled with some of the best riders in the state. And this year, after riding pretty well in the Sport Category in 2019, I decided to jump up to the Expert Category (right below Pro). And boy was I in for a rude awakening.

What exactly is the difference between enduro racing and cross-country (XC) racing? Per Liv-Cycling.com, the concept of enduro racing is simple; get yourself to the top of a mountain and race to the bottom time-trial style. In general, modern enduro races involve anywhere from 3-6 timed stages. The timed portions of the race are mostly downhill but can vary in steepness, length, and difficulty depending on location. Between each stage, there will be untimed “transfer stages” that are mostly uphill. XC racing differs in that it is the most pure form of racing. Race on a designated course as fast as possible from start to finish, sometimes having to complete multiple laps. These courses tend to be flatter, involve constant pedaling, and rarely are super technical.

Every second counts

This seems pretty obvious when talking about a race, but when I say every second counts, I literally mean every second counts. Unlike in a previous category, where race standings had us separated by many minutes; in Expert, the difference from 1st place and 10th place may have only been a couple minutes in XC or in Enduro, just a few seconds. So over the course of a race, there might be a dozen switchbacking turns that cause you to brake hard. Well, a good rider can easily make up a second on you if they are better at cornering by braking later, turning harder, and pedaling out of a corner faster. That right there can be the difference of 1-2 seconds at each corner. 

Taking that same mentality to hit every single feature, staying off the brakes as much as possible, knowing that each second, someone else could be going faster than you when they approach the same line.

Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!

I learned very quickly after moving out to Utah that if you wanted to be fast on the downhill, you can’t let gravity do all the work. You’ll need to pedal. And that is the same for both XC & Enduro Racing. If it is possible for you to be pedaling, then you should be. That is, if you want to win. Even through technical terrain or steep sections, you can always be going faster. Tucking or coasting downhill sections is a hard habit to break. Normally, descents are meant to be fun, flowing, and gravity driven. Nope, not during a race. As soon as you come out of a feature or crest a hill, I was always getting out of the seat, and onto the pedals. I’d visualize in my head another rider pushing harder than me and I’d try to catch up to them pedaling in my lowest gear. Sure, this backfires often, when you get too focused on pedal and completely overshoot a section or come in too hot into a corner. But in general, if you know where you’re going, you should be pedaling.

Pre-Ride the Course

Although not always possible, pre-riding the course is as important as coming in with a working bike and being in shape. Over the course of this season, I’ve raced events on trails that I’ve ridden dozens of times, and other events where I was going into the race blind as a bat. I can tell you, with 100% confidence, that no matter how fit or fast you are (or think you are), you will not race well if you don’t know the course.

The benefits of a pre-ride are hard to measure. Simply put, pre-riding the course will allow you to know exactly where to conserve energy before and on climbs, where to push it on the flats and descents, where the wider sections of trail that you can overtake riders, and obviously where the technical sections and tight corners are. If you don’t pre-ride, you’ll end up missing opportunities to push it, be too gassed before or on the climbs, and are guaranteed to overshoot a few corners or tight sections. This will easily cost you precious seconds in an enduro race and minutes on a longer XC race.

Bike Setup

As much as I wish I had a bike for every type of racing: XC, Enduro, Downhill, I only have one mountain bike and have to make do with it for all types of racing. With that being said, it just goes to show that the bike doesn’t win a race, the rider does. Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

For a XC race, I tend to bump my tire pressure up more to reduce rolling resistance, but not too much because you’ll loose too much traction in cornering. I tend to lockout my suspension more often then not in XC races to maximize efficiency. As for weight, well I bring nothing with me besides a multi-tool and water, no extra tools, nothing. Gotta go light as possible.

For an Enduro race, priority one is visibility so I always wear a pair of clear goggles. Next is protection, and if the race course demands it, I’ll wear a full-face helmet and always wear a pair of Fox Enduro knee pads. Because the races are slower paced on the uphill and more demanding on the timed-downhill, I bring snacks and gatorade to keep me energized. As for my bike setup, it’s all about suspension and tire pressure. I make sure the tire pressure is at 20 PSI in front, 25 PSI in rear. And as for suspension, I might add a few PSI to both my shock and fork to accommodate the big drops and hard corners, while also slowing down the rebound on both.

Racing is Supposed to be Fun

Racing is supposed to be fun. And keep racing until it isn’t. This was my biggest takeaway during this race season. I love racing, but only when I am honest with myself about the effort I put into my training. In the beginning of the season, I enjoyed the training and pushing the miles to prepare for races. But then, halfway through the season, I realized I enjoyed riding with my friends much more. You know, the casual uphill rides, followed by epic descents. Not the hill repeats on the moderate trails I race on. So then I wasn’t riding for fun anymore, and only riding to race.

Needless to say, my passion wasn’t there and my results were showing it. I liked riding the enduro style for fun, and for races, that’s where my passion was. And that’s why I think I’ve raced my last short XC race ever, but definitely not my last race. I’ll continue to race as many enduro races that I can find and would love to race some big, long distances races too! As long as it stays fun for me!

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